Labour too can answer the call of the quango

Tony Blair's office is considering a plan to place the party's friends in high places. David Walker reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online
LABOUR may soon start drawing up its own list of the Good and the Great - people it will consider for quango jobs and other public appointments if it takes power. Tony Blair's office is considering a plan drafted by Jenny Jeger, a political consultant with close ties to the party's new establishment. She has proposed a central data bank with details of thousands of potential Labour nominees.

Questionnaires would be sent out via Labour party constituen-cies and the informal networks of Labour-friendly women, business people and academics built up in recent years.

Labour's list would complement the official list of the Good and the Great held in the Cabinet Office which the Government has said it would like to broaden. Ms Jeger, niece of Baroness Jeger, the former Labour MP, said Labour was anxious that if it came to power ministers would have other sources of names to draw on besides those presented by civil servants.

A huge number of quango appointments will be up for grabs, on bodies ranging from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to the Energy Saving Trust; among the most significant will be the membership of health authorities and trusts. The Cabinet Office lists 40,000 appointments - excluding the Health Service - but the total is unknown since some quangos appoint to other quangos and many appointments are made by government departments without reference to the Public Appointments unit in the Cabinet Office. But the Labour leadership is anxious to distance itself from the suggestion that it is set to collect names. A spokeswoman for Mr Blair said Ms Jeger's idea was her own, adding that Labour's priority was reform of the quangocracy. Among members of the shadow cabinet, Gordon Brown has been privately arguing that Labour must not be seen to be playing Washington-style politics by coming into office and sweeping out Tory nominees. He is anxious to indicate to business and the City that Labour would continue to look to businessmen to fill plum posts.

Before the last general election a Kinnock appointments list was mooted but dismissed on the grounds that it could lead to backbiting, and the large numbers of those disappointed at not getting quango appointments could outweigh those who were satisfied.

Much depends on who is chosen to fill the now vacant office of Labour chief whip. Traditionally the whips' office dispenses much government patronage. Mr Blair's candidate for the office, Keith Barron MP, is unlikely to want to relinquish the leverage whips have enjoyed in the past. To complicate matters the former chief whip Derek Foster may also have a role involving assembling people suitable for Labour appointments. Ms Jeger said her ambition was to make Labour's list as open as possible, maybe using the Internet to list volunteers and skills (only 0.5 per cent of quango appointments are paid).

She denied that Labour would sweep quangos clean. "It is not a matter of chucking the Tories off, but of making these bodies more representative and asking how one might replace ill-suited and ill-qualified people with better ones."

However, likely candidates for the chop if Labour comes to power are understood to include a number of health authority chairs, and individuals such as Sir Christopher Benson, chairman of insurers Sun Alliance and the construction group Costain, who chairs the new Funding Agency for Schools; Kamlish Bahl, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission; and Sir David Cooksey, a businessman who recently moved sideways in jumping from the Audit Commission to the Local Government Commission.

Initially at least the Labour party organisation would be the principle source of nominations, though Ms Jeger said she wanted to move away from party chairs to tap the "huge expertise" of rank and file members.

Top of any Labour list are certain to be certain union leaders, including Liz Symons of the First Division Association and Clive Brook of the tax officials' union. Labour also has a strong academic network, includingRoderick Floud, provost of London Guildhall University, and Alan Wilson, vice- chancellor of the University of Leeds.